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Dhaka
The area now known as Dhaka was urbanised in the 7th century and was part of the Pala and Sena empires. The city may have been named after the Dhakeshwari temple built here by Ballal Sena in the 12th century. After the Sena dynasty, Dhaka was ruled by Turkish and Afghan governors until 1608 when it became part of the Mughal empire and rose to prominence as the capital of the Bengal subah. The Lalbagh Fort is a Mughal palace fortress in southwest Dhaka. Its construction was started in the mid 17th century by Prince Muhammad Azam but he was summoned to Delhi by Aurangzeb before the work could complete. His successor, Shaista Khan, did not continue the work, even though he served as governor for 24 years. The fort contains three prominent buildings: the tomb of Bibi Pari (Shaista Khan's daughter), the mosque, and the Diwan-i-Aam (right). They are laid out in a walled enclosure with symmetrical gardens and waterways.


Ahsan Manzil
The Ahsan Manzil was built in the 19th century as a riverside mansion of the Nawabs of Dhaka on the grounds of a Mughal palace. It was by built by Nawab Abdul Ghani and named after his son Ahsanulla who as nawab rebuilt it twice after it was damaged, first by a tornado and then an earthquake. The Manzil is a two-storied palace built on a raised platform. The wide stairway seen here leads from a riverside garden to the first floor which has a large drawing room, library, card room, and a spacious Jalsaghar. On the ground floor are the dining room and darbar halls which are decorated with white, green and yellow ceramic tiles.


Sonargaon
About 27 km southeast of Dhaka, the medieval town of Sonargaon was an administrative centre, port and mint-town in the 14th century, mentioned in the accounts of travelers like Ibn Batuta, Ma Huan, and Ralph Fitch. Its importance declined when Dhaka rose to prominence but it regained some importance in the 19th century when the Panam Nagar area was established as a trading centre in cotton textiles. Hindu merchants built palaces here in an ornate European style. Today the overgrown ruins of these stand on both sides of a long thoroughfare. Slightly further away in the woods is an high octagonal Siva temple. This brick two-storeyed temple is built in a spired style that flourished in eastern Bengal in the 19th century. The main arched entrance is matched with arched recesses on each side and on both levels. Above are wide horizontal bands below a curved cornice.


Zamindar House
The largest palace in Sonargaon is the mansion of the zamindar of Sonargaon, built in 1901. Like most zamindar houses of this time, this was modeled on European palaces. Its brick entrance hall has baroque decoration and elaborate painting on plaster while on the upper level, European pillars flank Mughal arches. Inside the palace, inner courtyards are surrounded by arcaded verandahs with corinthian columns with kalasa bases. One part of the palace is now converted into a Craft Museum, with a 19th century wooden palanquin as an exhibit in its courtyard.


Goaldi Mosque
Sonargaon also has one of the best preserved brick mosques from the Husain Shahi period. The Goaldi Masjid was built by Mulla Hizabar Akbar Khan in the early 16th century, during the reign of Alauddin Husain Shah. This mosque is a fine example of the regional Bengali architectural idiom that emerged under Husain Shahi patronage. This is reflected in the elegantly curved cornice, triple-arched entrances on all sides, and the single, graceful, hemispherical dome.


Terracotta Panels
Miniature arches with teracotta designs are placed below the cornice and above the entrance arches. Round corner turrets that rise upto the cornice and have double mouldings at the centre and triple mouldings at the base, just above which are more terracotta arches. Between the arches on the facade is a plaque that contains an ornate, recessed arch with a chain and bell and lotus spandrels. This is framed by a border containing floral and vine scrolls.



Photos and Text © Amit Guha